Two challengers aim to beat Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza in the 2022 election cycle and bring change to the office.
Snaza, an independent, has served as sheriff since 2011 and won reelection in 2014 and 2018 without facing any challengers.
This year he will face Tyler McCoy, also known as Tyler Turpin, a former deputy who has built a social media following around his now retired police dog, K9 Arlo. McCoy, a Democrat, registered for the race in June 2021 after what he described as internal pressure to leave the Sheriff's Office.
Also in the race is Derek Sanders, a current deputy who previously worked at the Lacey Police Department. Sanders, an independent, registered for the race in March and describes himself as a transparent and accountable candidate.
Both have expressed desires to improve the culture of the Sheriff's Office and better relations with the wider Thurston County community.
However, Sanders has serious doubts about McCoy's ability to lead considering his departure. For his part, Snaza has repeatedly declined to comment on McCoy's departure, citing a negotiated agreement.
While Snaza has welcomed his challengers, he has defended his leadership and said he still believes he'll win on the strength of his experience.
"I encourage all my deputies to strive for what they believe is right," Snaza said. "If that's what (they) want to do, who am I to tell (them) no to? The issue is that I plan on being the sheriff for the next four years."
Prior to becoming sheriff, Snaza worked as a deputy for 18 years and took advantage of various public service opportunities, far more than his competitors, he said.
"I was really fortunate to do all those things, so I just think that it would be nice to see them have some of that experience coming into wanting the job," Snaza said. "But I don't blame them for wanting my job. It's the best job I've ever had with the Sheriff's Office."
Snaza said he aims to continue the work he has done so far to grow and modernize the Sheriff's Office and the county jail. He said he remains dedicated to Thurston County and cannot even ponder losing reelection.
Monday is the start of filing week for candidates who want their names on the August primary.
With election day still months away, none of the candidates have raised substantial money yet for their campaigns. McCoy has raised $105, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission reports.
McCoy told The Olympian he wants to get rid of a "good old boys" mentality in the Sheriff's Office. He said the culture feels outdated and has kept newer faces from getting certain jobs.
"If you're not in the club, you're not going to get what you want," McCoy said. "I'm tired of that. It should be an open department."
At 30 years old, McCoy says he comes with a newer mentality more in line with a more culturally aware generation. As a gay man, he said he felt discrimination one time at the Sheriff's Office but he declined to elaborate.
"I was never discriminated against by (the deputies)," McCoy said. "They were very welcoming."
The Sheriff's Office hired McCoy as a deputy in November 2018 and he joined the K9 program in late 2019. Prior to that, he worked for the University of Washington campus police, the Coast Guard Reserve and as an emergency room tech at a hospital.
McCoy announced his candidacy in an Instagram post on May 26, 2021, to his 123,000 followers at the time. He now has at least 157,000 followers on Instagram and 3.5 million on TikTok.
Much of his following has been built around his dog, K9 Arlo. Law enforcement accidently shot the police dog while opening fire on a man who had led them on a chase in January 2021.
McCoy took part in the shooting and a formal investigation followed. However, he soon became embroiled in questions about a GoFundMe to benefit the dog and the Sheriff's Office separately probed his social media finances.
The probe was launched because some in the department believed he profited from K9 Arlo's social media presence while the dog was still Thurston County property, according to public records first reported on by The Chronicle.
Rather than complete an investigation, the Sheriff's Office negotiated a deal with McCoy that had him leave his job at the Sheriff's Office. He has since maintained he was pressured to leave.
In April 2021, McCoy bought the retired K9 for $1. Since then, he has often posted about the dog's recovery and promoted various commercial products and non-profits.
McCoy said he chose to run as a Democrat because his beliefs and identity fit best with that party. He said he agrees with some in the party advocating for more transparency and community outreach.
"I think some people, they hear Democratic, and they really believe they're against police." McCoy said. "That's not true. They just want transparency, and they want to make sure the police are held responsible for things that are happening."
McCoy said he took issue with how internal investigations are handled at the Sheriff's Office. He said he would like a knowledgeable citizen to run such investigations and share their findings with the public.
"I don't want somebody who has no idea what it's like being a police officer ... but I also don't want them to be a guy that's your best friend, that you're going to go training with them tomorrow," McCoy said.
If elected, he said he would like to improve relationships with other jurisdictions in Thurston County to tackle regional issues such as homelessness and drug use. He also wants to improve relations with the community through outreach and social media.
Sanders, 28, has worked at the Sheriff's Office for about six years. He said he chose to run after becoming dissatisfied with Snaza's leadership. He described the current administration as an echo chamber of "weekend buddies."
"That's how it feels from the bottom," Sanders said. "There's less of a professional distance up top. ... It just feels like decisions are made, everyone agrees and then they move on to the next thing without really considering how it impacts public safety and employee morale."
Sanders, who identifies as biracial, sees himself as part of a newer generation of law enforcement that's more willing to be transparent to the public and open to all its diversity.
"We're kind of born into that transparency era where there's been a strong demand for that." Sanders said. "So, I'm really excited to really try and lead the way. This election we're going to see just how badly people want that transparency because it's a campaign promise for me."
Like McCoy, Sanders also wants to improve the Sheriff's Office social media presence and share more information with the public.
Sanders said employee morale has waned during the pandemic, in part due to management and a lack of tools to combat crime waves. As Sheriff, Sanders said he aims to fix that while also refocusing on recruiting and retention.
Conflicts of interests in investigations affecting the Sheriff's Office are an area of concern for Sanders. He said the Sheriff's Office needs to ensure such investigations are independent.
He pointed to the recent death of a person who was in deputy custody as an example. In that case, the Lewis County Sheriff's Office, which is run by Snaza's twin brother, took the lead in the investigation.
"That seems like a direct conflict of interest to have your twin brother investigate you," Sanders said. "I would think (Snaza) would be doing everything he can to make it as clean, impartial and independent as possible. And it just doesn't really seem like he cares."
Sanders claimed the Sheriff's Office has tried to keep internal arrests and investigations as quiet as possible. He said he wasn't satisfied with how Snaza handled the investigation into McCoy, who Sanders accused of effectively stealing taxpayer money.
"Watching the sheriff terminate that criminal investigation, let (McCoy) keep all the money, and then give him the dog on top of that for a hush-hush settlement agreement, it rubbed me the wrong way," Sanders said.
He contrasted himself with McCoy by saying he is honest. He said McCoy would have an uphill battle managing the Sheriff's Office he left behind.
"I don't know if you'd find a single deputy who would disagree with this, but everyone has said if he wins, they will all quit," Sanders said. "So, he will be starting from scratch."
McCoy said he is optimistic he could mend relationships with current employees. He also said he promises to limit his promotional social media activities if elected.